Interview: Dan Hicks

Published: September 21, 2001 03:42 PM
Dan Hicks' manner of speaking is
slow and droll, somewhat like his brand of music. His playful melodies utilize western swing, jazz, folk, blues, jug band and country, with some pop thrown in for good measure.
 
                  Though Hicks is a trained jazz drummer, his on-again, 
                  off-again band Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks is almost a 
                  throwback to a bygone era--one before drum backbeats became 
                  prominent. 
                  Hicks was an original member of the Haight-Ashbury psychedelic 
                  band the Charlatans. The band recorded just one album, but by 
                  then Hicks had already left the group to form the Hot Licks, 
                  an outfit featuring female vocals, violins, guitars and string 
                  bass. 
                  The band's first album, 1969's "Original Recordings," was 
                  recently reissued with seven additional tracks as "The Most of 
                  Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks" (Epic/Legacy). 
                  The additional tracks were supposed to have been the base for 
                  the second Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks album. "We were in the 
                  process of getting a manager, and Epic didn't want us so we 
                  went to Blue Thumb Records," Hicks said. "Those sessions never 
                  got released until now. They sound pretty good after all those 
                  years of not hearing them." 
                  Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks were fairly active until 1973, and 
                  then Hicks did a few solo albums over the next two decades. 
                  Two new Hot Licks albums were finally released in the mid-90s.
                  "I toured a lot over those years," he noted, "but not 30 days 
                  a month. I played here and there."
                  The real comeback came last year with "Beatin' the Heat" 
                  (Surfdog), an album featuring an incredible array of guests 
                  who were long-time aficianados of the Hot Licks: Elvis 
                  Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer and Tom 
                  Waits.
                  Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks followed it up with the recently 
                  released live album, "Alive & Lickin'" (Surfdog). Though the 
                  band canceled its September concerts due to Hicks' exhaustion, 
                  Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks expect to hit the road in October.
                  LiveDaily: Why did you leave the Charlatans and form Dan Hicks 
                  and His Hot Licks?
                  Dan Hicks: The band broke up and later reformed, but I went on 
                  to form the Hot Licks. The Hot Licks were more about folk 
                  singing and jazz, more than just the rock and roll of the 
                  Charlatans. I was doing a solo thing at the time in San 
                  Francisco, and then I added bass, violin and girl singers. I 
                  wanted to make different kind of music--my style.
                  Was Django Rheinhardt an influence?
                  A side influence, but more of a Bob Wills (bio | CDs - DVDs - 
                  books) thing. Vocally, there was Brazil '66 and the Raettes. 
                  It was sort of an evolution of Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band.
                  How would you describe your music today?
                  A light, jazzy, folksy style with a few layers ... hey, I 
                  don't have to describe my style. That's for a guy trying to 
                  get a job somewhere, and I'm not looking for a job.
                  Is the new live CD representative of the band?
                  Pretty representative. It has good sound. We were on the ball 
                  that night. The band can put on a pretty good performance 
                  every night. Most of the CD was recorded in Northhampton, 
                  Mass., and two tracks were recorded in Chicago a few months 
                  earlier. We got in some new songs--not songs that I wrote, but 
                  new to us in doing them.
                  How do you travel on the road?
                  It's just the six of us. Myself and the five other musicians: 
                  two female singers-percussionists--one of whom also plays 
                  violin--violinist-mandolinist, lead guitarist and string 
                  bassist.
                  How come no drummer?
                  It's a string band, a folksy, jazzy thing. You don't ask Flatt 
                  & Scruggs, "Where is your drummer?" It's a cabaret folk thing 
                  with a little bit of tambourine and sandblocks. I've had 
                  groups with drummers occasionally, so it's not like I never 
                  had a drummer.
                  Six is enough people on the road. A drummer would make it 
                  seven, and then you have to carry the drum set too. We fly out 
                  to a concert and rent a van for the rest of the leg, the rest 
                  of the week and then fly home. We have no roadies.
                  The Charlatans had a classy style of wardrobe with Victorian 
                  and wild-west costumes. What is the style of Dan Hicks and His 
                  Hot Licks these days?
                  The Charlatans carried the idea of a retro look, or old-timey 
                  look. It was a taste and looked good. I can't get anybody to 
                  wear anything like that now. If they had their choice, it 
                  would be T-shirts and jeans. The girls dress well, but the 
                  guys are hard-assed, and I'm not going to buy them clothes. I 
                  wear slacks, two-toned oxford shoes, a colorful shirt and a 
                  vest.
                  What do you consider a good tour?
                  I only like to tour 10 days a month. That's enough. I don't 
                  like to be out weeks on end, but I do like performing a lot. A 
                  two-week tour is way too long. 

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